Review: So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane

So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
YTD: 21

Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

So You Want to be a Wizard is the first book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series.  The story tells the tale of two young outcasts, Nita (Juanita) and Kit (Christopher) who each separately stumble across the manual of Wizardry and soon take “the Oath” to become Wizards themselves.  In Diane Duane’s world, Wizardry and magic is not an easy or safe thing to get involved with.  Nita & Kit concoct a daring spell on their first attempt and, in the process, bring through the dimensions a being named “Fred”, who turns out to be a “white hole” or star-gone-supernova.  The two young wizards soon search for guidance, of which they find very little, in an attempt to learn more of the mysterious Wizarding world where plants, trees, and animals talk and where, when things go missing, you sometimes have to travel through different dimensions to find them.

Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.
 
Kit and Juanita are the most prominent characters in the book, being the primary ones, so much time is spent on developing their personalities and talents – watching them grow as wizards.  More could have been done, in my opinion, to distinguish the two from each other, particularly as they are both on this interesting journey together and there is much opportunity to see how they will react to different situations.  They both seem to react to everything in the same way, though.  True, we do see that Kit has a talent for mechanical magic, whereas Nita’s talent is with nature/life magic.  It is possible that these traits, and more of their own personalities, might continue to develop in future books – which is one of the benefits of a series, but in a 400-page introductory fantasy book, there could have been more.  That being said, many of the minor characters were written extraordinarily well.  Fred, for instance, has a charming and endearing personality – a regular old-fashioned “sidekick” function, except, of course, that he is a Star.  The same can be said for other secondary and tertiary characters, such as Nita’s tree, Kit’s car, the “Starsnuffer” villain, and the two male Wizard guides (a couple?) and their grouchy pet bird.  Overall, there was enough to make for an enjoyable story, and to make one want to get to know more about these folks, so moving on in the series is definitely encouraged by the characterization here.


Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

I was impressed by the level of language and craft in this book.  For some reason, I continue to be surprised when a young adult novel, particularly of the fantasy/science-fiction genres, is written with nearly adult sophistication.  This is definitely a book whose style and vocabulary will push younger readers to grow, and which will satisfy more practiced readers as well.  I was caught off-guard a number of times by the vocabulary, in particular, as well as the overall flow of the story.  I was put-off, at times, by the chapter lengths – which sometimes went as much as 60 pages (to me, a lot in any book – but particularly in this genre).  Overall, though, Duane demonstrated a clear ability – and she seemed to have fun with it, too.  Smart and entertaining.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
 
One of the most interesting aspects of this YA fantasy novel is how adult it feels.  The language is not simple, nor is the concept.  There is a sense of the scientific, here, as if Duane studied alchemy and physics in order to get the mechanics of dimension-travel and spell-casting correct (or at least plausible).  This adds an interesting element to the fantasy element – something almost Madeleine L’Engle-like.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: 12+
Interest: Fantasy, Magic, Friendship, Nature, Coming-of-Age, Independence
 
Notable Quotes:
“Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.”
 
“NO!” he cried from somewhere behind the trees, wild, furious, terrified. But Nita felt no fear. It was as it had been in the beginning- all of his “NOs” had never been able to stop Life’s I Am.”
 
“(Dear Artificer,) it said in a bemused delight, (I’ve blown my quanta and gone to the Good Place!)”
 
“All around her trees and stones and flesh and metal burned with the power that burned her, self-awareness, which death can seem to stop but can never keep from happening, no matter how hard it tires.”

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